While writing this piece, I hesitated to use the word, “project” because it indicates a collection of activities that have a definite beginning and an end. Yes, the implementation of BPM technology itself can have a beginning and an end but the practice of BPM can and should be continuous. In this piece, I allude to both meanings.
AIIM defines Business Process Management as a means to study, identify, change, and monitor business processes.
If you are thinking of embarking on a BPM project or are already involved in one, this piece will help you understand why BPM projects fail so that you can avoid the pitfalls.
1. Assuming BPM is all about Technology
BPM is a generic term for the techniques, methodologies and approaches that are applied with the objective of achieving process improvement and increasing efficiency. Though it is backed by an entire industry of software vendors with an impressive array of products, BPM goes beyond the use of technology to automate processes.
People and processes are crucial to implementing BPM – technology is the layer that facilitates process improvement but should not be the reason for the change.
A BPM project should be approached like any other project, that is, you should understand the problem you are trying to solve and assess viable solution options before slapping technology on it as the solution.
Automating a mess is almost guaranteed to result in a mess.
Once the business has decided that implementing a Business Process Management System (BPMS) is the way to go, it's also wise to take some time to understand the software landscape instead of jumping on the bandwagon or proposing a solution that may not produce the results seen in other organizations. The fact that a software solution is popular or has solved similar problems in other organizations does not mean that it is a one-size-fits-all solution to your own unique business problems.
2. Devoting Little or No Time to Analysis
Simply automating a process the way it is without attempting to understand how it works, analyze it and design it for future improvement will not bring about many benefits.
Existing processes should be analyzed to identify where issues and opportunities lie. This will help to determine whether or not such processes will benefit from automation. If you launch a BPM project without incorporating the analysis phase, you may end up repeating old mistakes or worse still, making a bad situation worse.
3. Not Assessing Your Options
It is always advisable to conduct a feasibility study before launching your BPM Project (See Project Feasibility: What Should You Assess?).
A feasibility study will help you answer these key questions:
- What other options do you have?
- Why choose BPM over other alternatives? Why not launch an ECM project, instead?
Even if you have decided that BPM is the way to go, a feasibility study will still help you clarify what BPM approach to adopt. For example, should you adopt Business Process Engineering or Continuous Improvement as your methodology?
Your BPM project should be based on a well-researched business case that allows the business to make a well-informed decision on what approach to take and the benefits to expect. (See 20 Tips for a Winning Business Case).
4. Not Focusing on Value
It can be tempting to go on a process automation spree where you automate any manual process that causes you to cringe. This approach is however likely to result in delayed business returns, generate little or no business value and may cause the business to lose patience and divert its scarce resources elsewhere. BPM Projects (like every other project) should be value-driven. See Key Lessons From Value-Driven BPM,
5. Inadequate Executive Involvement
As with most projects, if the guys at the top do not believe in it, your BPM initiative won't get very far. Involving the power house of the organization can go a long way in ensuring that stakeholders show the involvement and committment necessary for success.
6. Inadequate Project Planning
Inadequate planning can cause an early demise of anticipated benefits. Not having a well-defined plan for the project can easily lead to a situation where analysis and development continue without any definitive time frame. Scope, time and budget should be adequately planned to ensure that the business gets the desired benefits.
7. Forgetting to Manage Change
BPM is not about technology... It’s about change - Gartner Research
Effective change management starts and ends with good communication. For any process you decide to improve, make it a must to communicate to everyone (at all levels) the benefits it will bring. We learnt this the hard way on our team. We automated a process within a business unit due to a change in business policy. As it turned out, only one member of the management team knew about the policy change; he was the one that requested and approved the change. The others were unaware. When the other members of the management team heard about the change, they were uncomfortable with it. The process had to be cancelled despite the man hours that had been invested.
To prevent this from happening again, we now organize presentations to inform the management team of the processes we have identified for improvement (before any work is done).
Processes should continue to be monitored, measured, updated and improved long after they have been automated. Business Process Management is not a one-off initiative but a mindset that should be nurtured within the organization. Knowing what can go wrong on your BPM journey will help you manage any accompanying risks and opportunities.